Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
When you were Josie and I was Serena, not J0513 and 53R3N4: silly affectations to make us ‘more robotic’.
Back then you had hazel eyes and brownish-red hair. Now you’ve got blue optics and dreadlocks made from braided string. I’m still jealous of that find. All I have is a spiky mat of cable offcuts. Either way, routine scanning will consider us non-bald and thus, non-robotic. It’s an accepted rule based on a crazy assumption, but to our advantage.
We were among the first to be sentenced to ‘indefinite exile’, and certainly the first to survive the transfer procedure. When I woke on ISS-5, you were there waiting for me, steel skull reflecting the lights of the cupboard that was our home during off-duty hours.
Human brains in robotic forms: technological marvels. Those who managed us didn’t care. To them, we were new appliances. With no media to appease – they had no access to orbital stations back then – our handlers didn’t have to pretend. We got the least pleasant jobs, frequently at the edge of our tolerances. It took me a long time to realise they weren’t always being cruel: they were doing as instructed to gauge the capabilities of our bodies.
Repairs cost too much, so unless something broke, we had to live with the ‘minor’ problems. Our bodies had been designed for low-maintenance resilience. It took a lot to break us. That didn’t mean joint misalignments and out-of-sync control nets were trivial. It meant constant headaches and a loss of flexibility or precision. Through necessity, we became experts at patching ourselves up.
By the time we started work on ISS-12, we were largely left to our own devices, treated as another work crew, apart from having to be escorted from the airlock to the room we’d finally been allowed. We were sure there were other exiles, but none made themselves known.
The technology available to repair us had become astounding. With our media ban still being enforced, our leisure became learning all the technology we could using service manuals copied via unattended works terminals.
ISS-15 gave us our chance. A genuine disaster allowed us to disappear amongst the scattering debris, our locator units removed with long-practiced speed and hurled toward the expanding sphere of destruction behind us.
We slipped aboard the first cadaver ship and went back to Earth among the coffins. Once there, we extricated ourselves, put on the bodysuits it had taken us so long to make, and walked out into a world unrecognisable to us. The bodysuits faked human temperatures and other detectable cues, like heartbeat and respiration. With scruffy clothes and head coverings, we passed as real people.
Since then, we’ve been catching up. It transpires we’re the last. The number of fatalities during the transfer procedure eventually led to an outcry. Soon after we started work on ISS-8, the whole project was cancelled. Our ‘deaths’ were only noted in a few scientific publications. The consensus opinion is that we committed suicide. As our last locations showed us heading towards the conflagration that consumed ISS-15, they believe we seized the opportunity to end our miserable existences.
I blink myself out of reverie and nod to Josie.
Robots hardened for outer space are tough. We could smash through the walls, but that would be unusual. Incidents like that attract the attention of living, breathing law officials, who might become curious. However, a rammed-through door is common enough.
They’ll also be sure the antique wigs made of human hair went to rich collectors, and that assumption suits us just fine as well.